Dumpster Diving: Your Trash Is Pay Dirt for Identity Thieves

Have you ever given more than a passing glance to the dumpsters in the back parking lot of your neighborhood stores? They’re not just trash bins. For recycling devotees, they’re a treasure trove of cast-offs. For others, they’re a fertile source of raw materials that can be used to commit identify theft fraud.

It stinks — aspiring identity thieves sort through trash looking for pre-approved credit card offers and other papers bearing personal identifiers.

Also known as “binning,” the less sinister form of dumpster diving has given way to website posts listing the location of “scores” and site visitors competing for the best finds. And late-night dumpster divers have been caught in the act on YouTube.

But don’t assume all these low-tech attacks are the harmless doings of eccentric people. Consider these cases:

  • A Wall Street Journal reporter found that nearly half of the dumpsters he searched at mortgage/title companies contained sensitive borrower information.
  • The Texas attorney general charged CVS Pharmacy after hundreds of documents containing customers’ personal information were unlawfully dumped behind the business. Found data included credit card receipts and prescription sleeves that included dates of birth, prescribing physicians and medications.
  • A Hawaii newspaper editor discovered 39 boxes of mortgage documents one day when dropping off newspapers at a recycling center. He tracked down the owner, who, after storing the documents in his basement for six years, paid a handyman $150 to dispose of them.

Aside from quizzing store managers, there’s little consumers can do about how their information is handled once they provide it to companies they do business with.

To avoid identity theft from your own trash, shred sensitive documents. The Washington state attorney general’s office3 recommends shredding:

  • Address labels from junk mail and magazines
  • ATM receipts
  • Bank statements
  • Canceled checks
  • Credit and debit card bills and receipts
  • Pay stubs
  • College, military, employee and health insurance ID cards
  • Expired passports
  • Insurance documents
  • Investment paperwork
  • Legal documents
  • Luggage tags
  • Medical/dental records
  • Anything listing your Social Security number
  • Pre-approved credit card offers
  • Résumés
  • Signatures
  • Tax forms
  • Used airline tickets
  • Utility bills
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